To the surprise of no one, the Saint John Sea Dogs are playing for the 2011 MasterCard Memorial Cup championship tonight.
This team went wire-to-wire to ragdoll the competition in the QMJHL, capture the President's Cup in six games over a tough and game but ultimately overmatched Gatineau Olympiques (who have a skilled little Patrice Bergeron clone in Jean-Gabriel Pageau)
The Sea Dogs have been the class of the CHL this season, but they'll have their hands full with Mississauga. Can they go the distance? Unlike with the St. Mike's, the core of the Sea Dogs are 2011 draft kids, headlined by the trio of Jonathan Huberdeau, Nathan Beaulieu and Zack Phillips.
Jacob DeSerres will likely be the x-factor in this game. The former Brandon Wheat King and Flyers prospect came into the Memorial Cup viewed as the weak link on a dominant team, but he's put those fears to rest with a strong performance. He'll have to step up big tonight like he did in the opening match against Missy.
Here's a look at the 2011 draft's key Sea Dogs (We've covered a lot of ground with these guys already, so we'll keep it brief).
Jonathan Huberdeau, LW
We call him J-Money, because that's all Huberdeau's been throughout the playoffs. He did it again in overtime, beating Jordan Binnington to propel his team to the championship game. His 2 goals, 4 points in 3 games are second on the team in scoring to Tomas Jurco. Huberdeau is both a scorer and a playmaker and he can also kill penalties effectively and play a good defensive game. He'll be coveted on draft day- top-three pick we think.
Stock watch: Surging- he's this year's Taylor Hall- his heroics will be fresh on NHL scouts' minds going into the draft process
Tomas Jurco, RW
Jurco kicked off the tournament with a thrilling breakaway and score on J.P. Anderson just moments into the opening contest against Missy. He's been on his game throughout the tourney, scoring highlight reel goals and big ones at that. He has 4 goals and 5 points in three games to lead his team. Skills-wise, Jurco is a clear first-rounder, but his consistency has been the biggest concern, as he tends to go long stretches without doing much. The streakiness coupled with pretty indifferent defensive effort is largely responsible for him dropping out of contention for top-10 consideration but make no mistake- this kid is a heck of a talent. On the right team, he could be deadly.
Stock watch: On the rise- if you're a strong NHL team picking late in the 1st round, wouldn't you love a guy who can dangle like this kid can? You bet you do- warts and all.
Nathan Beaulieu, D
Depending on who you talk to, Beaulieu is either a solid top-10 candidate or closer to 20th overall. It's a strange variance in opinions, and it really gets to the heart of the matter in terms of how interesting the 2011 draft is going to be when everything plays out. He's big, mobile, can fire the puck, play D and run the power play. Some scouts question the hockey sense, but others say it's a strength. Which is it? He's one of the most pure puck movers available in the class. All told, with the tools and upside, we think Beaulieu's wait on draft day won't be a very long one. He has 1-2-3 stats in 3 games at the tournament.
Stock watch: Up; B2011DW predicts top-10 for Beaulieu on draft day- his skill set is simply too coveted, too much in demand for him to drop.
Zack Phillips, RW/C
A shoulder injury against Gatineau has limited this scorer's effectiveness at shooting the puck at the Memorial Cup. He's put up a valiant effort, but he's clearly laboring. It's not going to kill his stock, because NHL teams are well aware of what he can do, but it has effectively limited his upward movement that teammates Huberdeau, Jurco and Beaulieu have taken advantage of. This guy has the size and hockey sense to be a scorer at the next level and it will be interesting to see where he goes in the draft.
Stock watch: Holding steady- a shame about the dinged up shoulder, but he'll have one more chance to shine when the spotlight is brightest.
Ryan Tesink , LW
With a motor that is always revving, this kid is an NHL draft pick in waiting, and it isn't his fault that Central overrated him. Despite having to play on the lower lines, he's managed to make his ice time count with some key goals in the playoffs and a solid performance overall. He's got a ton of weight to add to his 160-pound frame, but he's demonstrated a work ethic and the kind of energy to make a difference at the next level.
Stock watch: Steady as she goes- worth a mid-round pick, but we wouldn't go any earlier than 4th for him
You can see the final match between the Sea Dogs and St. Mike's tonight at 7:00 p.m. on the NHL Network in the U.S.- broadcasting the Rogers Sportsnet feed from Canada.